WSOC receives prestigious duPont-Columbia Award for District 9 election fraud investigation

WSOC was just awarded a 2020 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, one of the most prestigious awards in broadcast journalism. The award is for the investigative reporting into election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. This is the first ever duPont-Columbia Award for WSOC.

“Winners exposed political corruption on a range of platforms” judges said. “WSOC-TV’s local investigative reporting on election fraud broke news that led to national attention and criminal charges.” The judges described WSOC’s entry as, “Dogged, shoe-leather reporting.”

Seven of the 16 total winners are from local television stations. The national winners include PBS, Netflix, CBS and NBC.

The duPont-Columbia Awards “​uphold the highest standards in journalism by honoring winners annually, informing the public about those journalists' contributions.”

This was a story that went from zero to sixty in record time.

North Carolina’s Board of Elections refused to certify the November election results from the 9th Congressional district, citing an active investigation into potential wrongdoing. GOP candidate Mark Harris had seemingly won the election, but his margin of victory over Democrat Dan McCready was small – and it was suddenly being called into question.

The news was so unexpected, campaign managers for the candidates were unaware of it until WSOC-TV reporter Joe Bruno contacted them and told them. From that day forward – and continuing to this day – the story has caused political chaos from North Carolina to Washington.

WSOC-TV not only broke the initial story, our team dug in deep and broke every major development that followed. Our work has been cited by The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News and Columbia Journalism Review.

The first major development happened just two days after the board opted to not certify the race. Two hours before news time, a source provided Joe Bruno with six sworn affidavits alleging fraud in the District 9 election. A team of more than a dozen WSOC employees pored over the affidavits, which claimed people in Bladen County were picking up ballots for others – an act that’s illegal in North Carolina. The affidavits identified the man who quickly became the centerpiece of this investigation -- McCrae Dowless.

While parts of District 9 are in our official coverage area, Bladen County is not. And although it’s three hours away, we immediately sent members of our investigative team there. WSOC was the first local station to arrive there, and we maintained a steady presence for weeks. On our second day there, we threw ourselves into another major development: A source had provided us with photocopies of 159 absentee ballot envelopes. On a picnic bench at a local church, our team sorted through all of them, tracking the absentee ballot witness names by hand and on a laptop. After several hours of data-crunching, we identified a pattern of the same people signing as witnesses. Three people served as witnesses on more than 40 ballots; eight others were listed as witnesses on at least 10 ballots each.

Joe Bruno went door-to-door, looking for them. He found a woman named Ginger Eason, who admitted (in an interview that went national and viral) that she was paid by McCrae Dowless to pick up absentee ballots and promote Mark Harris. Eason said she didn’t put the ballots in the mail after she picked them up -- she hand-delivered them to Dowless. A second woman, Cheryl Kinlaw, told Bruno that she too was paid by Dowless to pick up absentee ballots. Like Eason, she said she was told to promote Harris and to deliver the ballots to Dowless.

The election fraud scandal, with its daily developments and surprises, drew national interest. The Washington Post called WSOC’s work “the shoe-leather reporting boosting North Carolina’s explosive election fraud investigation.” CNN and MSNBC interviewed reporter Joe Bruno, whose work was the result of dozens of blind doorknocks, numerous source phone calls, 550 driven miles -- and three stops at an Elizabethtown McDonald’s.

To help our viewers keep up with this important story, WSOC created a special section on our website and aired a one-hour live special. Just hours before that special aired, Bruno landed the first interview with Democrat Dan McCready, who broke the news that he was withdrawing his concession.

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